I just finished teaching a compact winter semester class on Religion and the Environment. 13 classes over 18 days, 4 hours per class. The quick pace has its good points and bad points. The obvious bad point is that you can’t cover as much in three weeks as you can in fifteen, especially in terms of readings. The good point is that there’s a special comradery or familiarity that happens with day-to-day 4-hour sessions.
I used two excellent books. First, Grounding Religion: A Field Guide to the Study of Religion and Ecology, edited by my friend Whitney Bauman along with Rick Bohannon and Kevin O’Brien (2010). Second, The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Ecology, edited by Roger S. Gottlieb (2006). Along with those, I included some readings from Bron Taylor’s work with nature religion and what he calls dark green religion, and I used a lot of material from the website of the Forum on Religion and Ecology. I’m not sure what I’ll use in the future. I’m thinking of using Graham Harvey’s work on animism. I also like Matthew Hall’s book (Plants as Persons), in which he develops a critique of anthropocentrism and zoocentrism by analyzing a variety of perspectives on plants, including ancient Greek, Judeo-Christian, Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, indigenous, (neo)pagan, and contemporary plant sciences.
The spring semester starts next week. I’m teaching two classes: Environmental Ethics and Society and Religion. I always use an anthology to teach environmental ethics, but I anthologies don’t give the students the opportunity to know any single author very deeply. I also use a very accessible book of case-studies, Boundaries: A Casebook in Environmental Ethics, edited by Christine Gudorf and James Huchingson (an updated second edition came out in 2010). I use some eco-phenomenology, but not enough Lingis and Levinas. Levinas is a perfect thinker for bringing metaphysics into a class on ethics. “Ethics is not a branch of philosophy, but first philosophy” (Totality and Infinity, 1969, p. 304).
For Society and Religion, I’m using three books, all of which address trends and controversies related to modernization, secularization, and the so-called return of the religious in recent decades. First and most formidable is Mark C. Taylor, After God (2007). Since Taylor focuses a lot on America and Europe, I draw more attention to events in other nations by using Mark Juergensmeyer’s 2008 updated edition of Global Rebellion : Religious Challenges to the Secular State, from Christian Militias to Al Qaeda. Taylor’s deep theoretical questions mix well with Juergensmeyer’s more accessible narrative of historical events. Finally, I’m using The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere, which is based on a conference that brought together Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, Judith Butler, and Cornel West. Along with some basic introductory and supplementary chapters, the book includes chapters from each thinker as well as dialogues between Habermas and Taylor, between Butler and West, and between all four. I’m also using some readings on the social implications of religious music (Muslim hip-hop, trance dance music in Vodou) and a little on socially engaged Buddhism.
Sounds like a fun semester. I love teaching. It’s a vocation, a calling.